Fish-habitat associations on a subsea pipeline within an Australian Marine Park

D. L. McLean, B. I. Vaughan, B. E. Malseed, M. D. Taylor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


Subsea pipelines have been installed in all major hydrocarbon basins across the globe to support the offshore Oil & Gas (O&G) industry. These artificial structures provide hard substratum that can be colonised and utilised by sessile and mobile organisms. The present study utilises industry-collected remotely operated vehicle (ROV) video to assess fish species richness and abundance, and marine growth type, extent and complexity along sections of a subsea gas pipeline, in 56–82 m depth, that traverses the Australian Commonwealth Montebello Marine Park (MMP). A total of 7493 fish from 81 species and 33 families were recorded from 606 analysed 10 m transects spaced across sections of the pipeline. Of these 81 species, 27 are considered fishery-target species in the Pilbara Demersal Scalefish fishery (PDSF), with select commercial fishing activities permitted with authorisation within the Marine Park. A moderate abundance (175) of sub-adult red emperor (Lutjanus sebae), a fishery-indicator species, were observed along the pipeline. Eleven different categories of marine growth habitat were observed, with the pipeline possessing quite uniform coverage of encrusting marine growth (coralline algae, bryozoans, ascidians, etc.) with patchy occurrences of more structurally complex sponges and black/octocoral forms. Fish species richness and abundance of the commercially targeted Moses’ snapper (Lutjanus russellii) were correlated positively with increasing cover of sponges. The pipeline itself had very few spans and was never more than fractionally buried. Despite the somewhat homogenous habitats, depths, and position of the pipeline relative to the seafloor, presence of a field joint indent had a positive influence on the abundance of some common and commercially important fish species. This study demonstrates the ecological value of ROV footage obtained during industry inspection operations that were conducted for reasons unrelated to the determination of ecological information. The pipeline offers a corridor of hard bottom habitat within a marine park that facilitates epibiotic growth and the presence of reef-associated species in a region characterised by sandy sediments. Results indicate the potential importance of subsea O&G infrastructure as a habitat for fish, and in consequence, potentially also as structures with value to fisheries.

Original languageEnglish
Article number104813
JournalMarine Environmental Research
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 10 Oct 2019


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